The Situationist

Archive for August, 2010

The Situation of Forgiveness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 31, 2010

Ryan Fehr, Michele Gelfand, and Monisha Nag, recently posted their paper, “The Road to Forgiveness: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of its Situational and Dispositional Correlates” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Forgiveness has received widespread attention among psychologists from social, personality, clinical, developmental and organizational perspectives alike. Despite great progress, the forgiveness literature has witnessed few attempts at empirical integration. Toward this end, we meta-analyze results from 175 studies and 26,006 participants to examine the correlates of interpersonal forgiveness (i.e. forgiveness of a single offender by a single victim). A tripartite forgiveness typology is proposed, encompassing victims’ cognitions, affect, and constraints following offense. Hypotheses are tested with respect to 22 unique constructs that have been measured across different fields within psychology. We also evaluated key sample and study characteristics including gender, age, time, and methodology as main effects and moderators. Results highlight the multifaceted nature of forgiveness. Variables with particularly notable effects include intent (r̅ = -.49), state empathy (r̅ = .51), apology (r̅ = .42), and state anger (r̅ = -.41). Consistent with previous theory, situational constructs are shown to account for greater variance in forgiveness than victim dispositions, although within-category differences are considerable. Sample and study characteristics yielded negligible effects on forgiveness, despite previous theorizing to the contrary: the effect of gender was non-significant, r̅ = .01 and the effect of age was negligible, r̅ = .06. Preliminary evidence suggests that methodology may exhibit some moderating effects. Scenario methodologies led to enhanced effects for cognitions; recall methodologies led to enhanced effects for affect.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” and The Situation of Revenge,”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Bagel Situation

Posted by Adam Benforado on August 29, 2010

If you order a “bagel with cream cheese,” how much cream cheese should be provided with the bagel?

That was the question my girlfriend and I pondered the other day as we drove through New Jersey futilely trying to remove half of the cream cheese on our bagels without the aid of a knife.

Why is it that nearly every bagel that we buy has considerably more cream cheese than we want?  Is it that people can somehow sense that we are from Philadelphia?

If some people prefer a little cream cheese and some people prefer a lot, doesn’t it make the most sense to provide a small amount of cream cheese unless someone speaks up and voices a preference for more?  That way, everyone gets exactly what they want (and no more than they want).  And people who don’t really have a strong impulse either way are saved from consuming needless extra calories.

A lot of recent discussion concerning combating the obesity epidemic has been around the ability of the government to ban particular unhealthy ingredients or products, like trans fats and salt.  But perhaps we should be spending more time thinking about resetting food defaults, rather than on outright prohibitions, which tend to engender a strong backlash from certain sectors of the public

Already, there is a considerable amount of valuable research being conducted on how portion sizes and ingredient lists are set and how these elements impact our waistlines, but we need to think more about how we can use this data to accomplish meaningful policy prescriptions.

What if, in addition to a light spreading default, every bagel shop served light cream cheese unless you  asked for the higher-fat / higher-calorie alternative?

What if all sodas currently referred to as “diet” were relabeled as “regular,’ and “regular” sodas became “high-calorie” sodas?

What if “lite” beer became “standard” beer, and everything else became “heavy” beer?

What if when you ordered a sandwich, the regular side was a salad and you had to ask to substitute in fries, rather than vice versa?

What if the default when you ordered a latte was skimmed milk and you had to specify if you wanted whole milk?

One of the great benefits of a “resetting defaults” strategy is that it is much harder for opponents to attack as “anti-freedom” or “paternalistic.”  In each of the above examples, free choice would be completely preserved.  All the existing food and beverage options would still be there.  Every person would be at liberty to have fries and “heavy” beers at every meal.  However, Americans would have to actively choose what they wanted to eat; they could no longer sit back and have the choice made for them.  For those who elected to operate on autopilot, the result would be a far healthier diet.

Does such a “nudging towards health” proposal really have any negative impact on individual autonomy?  Are food defaults frighteningly paternalistic?  I don’t think so, but maybe all that cream cheese has gone to my head.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationism’s Improving Situation,” “Dr. David Kessler Waxes Situationist,” “The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” and “The Situation of Repackaging.”

To access Adam Benforado’s article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America (co-written with Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon), on the situationist causes of the American obesity epidemic, click here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | 7 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – July, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 27, 2010

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during July 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Jury Room: “Deliberations: Jurors think and feel as they make decisions”

“Our legal system assumes jurors will make their decisions without bias. This assumption echoes the ancient words of  Aristotle: “the law is reason, free from passion”. Yet, most of us realize that decision-making encompasses both reason and passion. So how do you take that into consideration as you prepare and then present your case?” Read more . . .

From Psyblog: “How to Banish Bad Habits and Control Temptations”

“Anyone who has ever found themselves trying to turn on the bathroom light seconds after phoning  the power company to ask how long the power cut will last, knows how easily habits bypass our conscious thought processes.” Read more . . .

From Science of Small Talk: “Every Little Bit Counts”

“On a regular basis, we see or hear about the negative behaviors of others and think, what is wrong with this person? We tell ourselves, I would never do that, firmly convinced in the veracity of our assessment.” Read more . . .

From Social Psychology Eye: “Protecting the powerful”

“Minnesota representative Michelle Bachmann has had her share of questionable moments in the past. For example, she once referred to President Obama and his wife as “anti-American”. She also seems to side with the powerful. The most recent example of this comes in regards to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Humans: “No Exit: Living With Walls and Fences”

“The right to move around is a fundamental human right. Back in 1948, in the wake of World War II, the United Nations declared that all men and women have the right to roam freely in their homeland, to leave, to return if they choose, and to exit again. That political vision recognized a basic psychological truth—that it is a violation of human nature to fence people in.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Laurie Santos on the Evolutionary Situation of Cognitive Biases

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2010

From BigThink:

Dr. Laurie Santos is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Her research provides an interface between evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience, exploring the evolutionary origins of the human mind by comparing the cognitive abilities of human and non-human primates. Her experiments focus on non-human primates (in captivity and in the field), incorporating methodologies from cognitive development, animal learning psychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

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From TedTalks:

Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in “monkeynomics” shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “The Endowment Effect in Chimpanzees – Abstract,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Monkey Fairness.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Evolutionary Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Virtue Ethics and the Situationist Challenge

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on August 23, 2010

We commonly describe people’s behavior in terms of character traits such as honest, courageous, generous, and the like.  Furthermore, we praise and reward those who display virtuous character traits and we look down upon those who exemplify vices such as dishonesty, cowardice, and stinginess.   That virtue ethics captures this aspect of our everyday moral practices—i.e., our tendency to describe human behavior in terms of dispositional traits that give rise to virtues and vices—is purportedly one of its chief selling points.  On Aristotle’s intuitively plausible view, for instance, being properly habituated, morally speaking, makes it more likely that one will engage in the right behavior, under the right circumstances, and for the right reasons.  Moreover, not only does having the virtues make it maximally likely that one will engage in virtuous activity, but Aristotle also suggests that once an agent acquires the proper character traits, these dispositions are “firm and unchangeable” (NE, 1105b1).  So, while the virtues are not themselves sufficient for moral behavior, truly virtuous individuals will usually do what’s right even under the most difficult circumstances (NE, 1105a88-10).  If, on the other hand, virtuous character traits were not robust and stable predictors of moral behavior as Aristotle and others suggest, it is unclear why inculcating the virtues would better equip one to reliably navigate the complex moral world we inhabit.

However, as intuitive and attractive as the characterological approach to moral psychology may initially appear, some philosophers have recently suggested that the virtue theorist’s commitment to robust and stable character traits opens her view up to possible empirical refutation (Harman 1999; 2000; Doris 1998; 2002).  On this skeptical view, the gathering data concerning the etiological role played by situational stimuli paints a different picture of moral agency than the one adopted by Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporary followers.  Rather than a world being navigated by moral agents armed with robust and stable habituated dispositions to act, what we find is a world whereby situational forces play a much larger role in moral agency than philosophers have traditionally assumed.

For present purposes, let’s call this the Situationist Challenge.  To get a feel for the sorts of empirical pressures that allegedly face virtue theorists, consider the surprising results from the “helping for a dime” studies reported in Isen & Levin (1972).  Subjects were random pedestrians in San Francisco, CA and Philadelphia, PA who stopped to use a public payphone.  Whereas some subjects found a dime that had been planted in the phone booth by researchers, other subjects did not find a dime.  When subjects left the phone booth, a female confederate of the researchers dropped an armful of papers and researchers recorded whether or not the individuals leaving the phone booth stopped to help.  The results were shocking: the subjects who found the dimes were 22 times more likely to help a woman who “dropped” her papers than the subjects who did not find the dime.  Let that sink in for a moment.  The slight elevation in emotion caused by randomly finding a dime on top of pay phone made a significant difference on subjects’ moral behavior—something presumably all participants would deny if asked.  Perhaps the most surprising feature of these results isn’t that something so morally insignificant—namely, finding a dime in a phone booth—had such a pronounced effect on people’s moral behavior, rather it’s that these results appear to be representative of moral behavior rather than anomalous.

Unsurprisingly, virtue theorists have not taken the Situationist Challenge lightly.  Perhaps the most common rejoinder to characterological skepticism is to suggest that the situationist literature is entirely consistent with traditional accounts of virtue ethics.  Indeed, we are told that the only reason virtue ethics appears to be under empirical attack is that the skeptics have purportedly either misread or misrepresented the ancient virtue theorists.    In making their case on this front, virtue theorists often appeal to the purported rarity of truly virtuous individuals.  Merritt (2000) summarizes this so-called “argument from rarity” (Doris 1998, p. ) in the following manner:

Now many sympathizers with virtue ethics will want to say, “So what?” The experimental evidence shows only that most people aren’t genuinely virtuous. (And haven’t we always known this anyway, without needing experimental psychology to reveal it?)  That doesn’t mean there’s a problem with the normative ideal of virtue ethics.  It just means that being genuinely virtuous is a rare and difficult achievement” These people have a point. (p. 367-68)

For instance, as Kamtekar (2004) points out, Plato openly admits that non-virtuous people are “impulsive and unstable” (Lysis 214d) and that they “shift back and forth” (Gorgias 481e).  Moreover, Kamtekar reminds us that Plato also acknowledges that “guaranteeing the behavior of ordinary people (i.e., people who lack philosophical wisdom) consistently conforms to virtue ethics requires manipulating their situations—not only the environment in which people are brought up but also the situations in which they are called upon to act as adults” (2004, p.483).  According to Kamtekar, Merritt, and others, if this reading of the ancient virtue theorists is correct, then not only is the literature on situationism consistent with the moral theories of Plato and Aristotle, but the gathering data are precisely what these theorists would predict. Finding a dime only makes it more likely that those lacking in virtue will help.  The truly virtuous would have helped regardless of whether or not they found a dime.  The same could arguably be said about all of the aforementioned situationist studies.  What you find in each case is evidence that for many (if not most) people, situational forces can sometimes trump dispositional traits when it comes to moral behavior.   However, this is purportedly a far cry from a refutation of virtue ethics.  Instead, it is a reminder of just how genuinely hard it is to be a virtuous agent.

Of course, this is not the only line of response open to the virtue ethicists.[1] Rather than falling back on the rarity of virtue—which is not a move without its dialectical and theoretical costs—virtue theorists could also opt for any of the following strategies:

  1. The Empirical Counter-Challenge:  One could directly dispute the data from situational psychology rather than try to show that the data are compatible with the characterological moral psychology of virtue ethics.[2]
  2. The Immunization Thesis:  One could accept the data on situationism at face value and suggest that we can use these data to immunize or shield ourselves from the etiological encroachment of morally irrelevant situational variables—i.e., armed with a better understanding of the threat of situationism, we will be better equipped to allow our dispositions to find expression in our action.[3]
  3. The Mischaracterization Response:  Rather than focusing on the supposed rarity of truly virtuous agents and behavior, virtue theorists could focus instead on trying to show that characterological skeptics have misunderstood or misstated other importance aspects of virtue theory.[4]
  4. The Revisionist Response:  The virtue theorists could accept that the data on situationism puts serious pressure on classical versions of virtue ethics.  So, rather than defending the Platonic or Aristotelian views from the challenge, these virtue theorists could offer revisionist or rival versions of virtue ethics that are purportedly better equipped to deal with the situationist challenge.[5]

Regardless of which of these strategies the virtue theorist adopts, it is clear that the empirical data on the dispositional and situational roots of behavior have forced virtue theorists to carefully reexamine both the views of the ancients as well as the contemporary views rooted in these earlier views.  While the data themselves do not (and presumably cannot) undermine virtue ethics full stop, they do represent an empirically-tractable challenge that virtue theorists must take seriously.


Annas, J. 2005. “Comments on John Doris’ Lack of Character.”  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73: 636-47.

Doris, J. 1998. Persons, situations, and virtue ethics.  Nous, 32:4: 504-530.

Doris, J. M. 2002. Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Harman, G. 1999. “Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99: 315-331.

Harman, G. 2000. “The Nonexistence of Character Traits,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100: 223-2 26

Kamtekar, R. 2004. Situationism and virtue ethics on the content of our character.  Ethics, 114: 458-491.

Merritt, M. 2000.  Virtue ethics and situationist personality psychology.  Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 3: 365-383.

Miller, C. 2003. “Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics.” The Journal of Ethics 7: 365-92.

Sabini, J. & Silver, M. 2005. Lack of character? Situationism critiqued. Ethics 115: 535-562.

Solomon, R. 2003. “Victims of Circumstances? A Defense of Virtue Ethics in Business.” Business Ethics Quarterly 13: 43-62.

Sreenivasan, G. 2002. Errors about Errors: Virtue Theory and Trait Attribution. Mind 111 (January): 47-68.

[1] For other recent attempts to defend virtue ethics against the situationist challenge, see Annas (2005); Miller (2003); Sabini & Silver (2005); Solomon (2003); Sreenivasan (2002).

[2] See, e.g., Kamtekar (2004).  The two most common issues raised about the studies on situationism are: (a) several of the studies have very small sample sizes; and (b) the studies don’t observe people’s behaviors across situations.

[3] See, e.g., Merritt (2000): “Situationist psychology does show that certain kinds of seemingly irrelevant situational factors may derail a person’s usual expressions of ethical concern…but that’s less likely to happen if we are aware of such situational factors and their usual influences on behavior” (p. 372).

[4] See, e.g., Kamtekar (2004): “I argue that the character traits conceived of and debunked by Situationist social psychological studies have very little to do with character as it is conceived of in traditional virtue ethics” (p. 460).

[5] See, e.g., Merritt (2000): “What is important for Hume’s purposes is that one’s possession of the virtues, which he characterizes as socially or personally beneficial qualities of mind, should be relatively stable over time somehow or other, not that it should be stable through taking a special, self-sufficiently sustainable psychological form.  A Humean approach leaves us plenty of room to say that if an otherwise admirable  structure of motivation were stable in a person only because it was in large part socially sustained, it would be no less a genuine virtue for that” (p. 378).

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To sample some related Situationist posts, see “Thomas Nadelhoffer on Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Law,” “The Situation of ‘Being Forced’,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate,” Video Introduction to Experimental PhilosophyMoral Psychology Primer,” “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” The Science of Morality,” ‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’ – Part I,” ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II,” andQuick Introduction to Experimental (Situationist?) Philosophy.”

Posted in Experimental Philosophy, Philosophy, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – July, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2010

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during July 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From BPS Research Digest: “It’s the way they move – politicians’ personalities inferred from their motion patterns”

“People form impressions about the personality of politicians simply from the way they move, according to a new study. This isn’t your typical body-language investigation into double-armed hand-shakes, bitten lips and fidgety fingers. Rather Markus Koppensteiner and Karl Grammer devised a new system for mathematically describing the movement patterns of forty real German politicians giving speeches in parliament.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Violent Video Games as a Learning Tool”

“Video games have come a long way from the early days of Pong and Pac-man. Today’s games are sophisticated media that blur the line between fiction and reality. One of the most heated debates surrounding video games, and, especially, their playing by young kids and adolescents, is the explicit violence present in many action-oriented games. While many parents, educators and psychology experts worry about the amount of violence that pervades society, new research is leading gaming experts to claim that video games, even violent ones, are actually useful learning tools.” Read more . . .

From Mediation Channel: “What did we know and when did we know it? The mutability of facts”

“Facts may indeed be stubborn things, but they are also subject to the vicissitudes of time and nature’s forces. Our thinking about those facts, and their significance to us, is often refracted through the lenses of culture, cognition, and bias. As our understanding of our physical world alters; as records are broken or measurements exceeded; as times, laws, borders, and customs change; our encyclopedias and other reference books, along with our memories, demand constant updating.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “Researchers implant false symptoms”

“An intriguing study  just published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology has found that we can be convinced we reported symptoms of mental illness that we never mentioned and, as a result, we can actually start believing we have the symptom itself.” Read more . . .

From Mind Matters: “Want to Play It Safe? Have a Cheeseburger”

“Sometimes it seems that everyone  has abandoned the notion that rational self-interest drives people’s decisions. It’s high time for some answers to the next obvious question: If Reason doesn’t rule the mental roost, then what does  govern people’s approach to buying, selling, voting, marrying, hiring and other choices? Last month, this study suggested that part of the answer is, simply, food. People who are hungry, it found, make different financial decisions than people who’ve recently eaten.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effects of Counterfactuals

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2010

From UCBerkeleyHaas:

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According to new research by management professors Laura Kray and Philip Tetlock, at the Haas School, UC Berkeley, counterfactual thinking — considering a turning point moment in the past and alternate universes had it not occurred — heightens ones perception of the moment as significant, and even fated. Armed with a sense that life may not be arbitrary, counterfactual thinkers, the study suggests, are more motivated and analytical in organizational settings.

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For a sample of related Situationst posts, see “The Situation of Regret,” Why You Bought That,” and “Behavioral Economics and Policy.”

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Terror Babies

Posted by Adam Benforado on August 17, 2010

Over the past few days, allegations of a frightening new terrorist plot have emerged.  Indeed, at the end of last week, Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle and Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert appeared on different editions of “Anderson Cooper 360” to sound the alarm that the Obama administration has been ignoring a critical threat to the United States.

What is this ominous menace?  Iranian nuclear missile silos?  North Korea transporting dirty bomb material into the United States?  The Chinese government developing technology to disable the U.S. power grid over the Internet?

Nope.  The answer is “terror babies.”

According to Riddle and Gohmert, terrorist organizations are sending pregnant women into our country so that the children that they bear will have American citizenship and, thus, be able to come and go into the United States as they receive terrorist training overseas.

If that seems fairly far-fetched and unnecessary, given that al Qaeda and other groups have no problem recruiting foreign terrorists willing to carry out attacks on America and Americans in the present, you would be correct.  As became clear during the interviews, neither Riddle nor Gohmert have any evidence whatsoever that this threat exists.

So if the claim is utterly baseless—as a former FBI agent explained to Anderson Cooper—why would Riddle and Gohmert be asserting it on national television and, in Gohmert’s case, on the floor of the House?

My guess is that these “scare stories,” in Cooper’s words, are linked to recent efforts to repeal the 14th Amendment, a move championed by the likes of former Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo—and current Republican leaders, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and John Boehner, among others.

With anti-immigrant sentiment riding high and certain to be an issue in the fall elections, the notion of getting rid of birthright citizenship by overturning the Amendment has been gaining significant steam, with various politicians sounding the alarm.  As Sessions explained to, “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the [14th] Amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”  In an effort to properly frame the discussion, many supporters of repeal have employed the term “anchor babies” to reflect the perception that illegal immigrants use the babies to try and anchor themselves to the United States.

However, those who want to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from gaining automatic citizenship simply by being born on U.S. soil have a little problem—quite literally.

The target of their attack on the Constitution is the most innocent and blameless of parties: tiny new born babies.  It seems extremely harsh—and downright un-American—to penalize a baby for the decision of her parents.  After all, the baby didn’t have any say at all over her parents’ immigration choices or citizenship status.  And, in fact, many people who would readily come down hard on adult illegal immigrants, balk at the idea of punishing newborns.

Thus, supporters of overturning the Amendment have desperately needed to change the way Americans feel about these children.  Getting people to think of them as inanimate objects—“anchors”—rather than innocent victims has not been strong enough.  Americans need to be encouraged to view immigrant babies negatively, just like their immigrant parents.

Enter the idea of “terror babies.”

The awful brilliance of the strategy is not only that it effectively casts immigrant babies as hated outgroup members, but that it requires no actual factual support.  Riddle, Gohmert, and others can simply make the inflammatory allegation and then sit back as media forces turn it into a debate, carefully making sure that they allow both sides to present their opinions and giving plenty of air time to the crazy claims.

In his ten minute spot with Cooper, Gohmert offered nothing that came close to evidence as Cooper repeatedly pressed him for the basis for his claims.  To anyone watching, this was not so much a debate, as one person asking reasonable questions in a calm tone of voice and another person ranting gibberish at the top of his lungs.  However, when the interview was finished, CNN labeled the video “Cooper, Gohmert debate ‘terror babies’” with a description that read “Rep. Louie Gohmert and CNN’s Anderson Cooper engage in a spirited debate over the lawmaker’s ‘terror babies’ claims.”

The description might as well have been “Gohmert coasts to victory in CNN appearance.”

The goal for the champions of repeal is not to win the argument—something that they surely cannot do—but to plant the seeds of fear in the minds of the public and to get us all familiar with that oddest of juxtapositions: terror babies.

It gives a whole new meaning to original sin.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Fear,” “The ‘Turban Effect’,” “The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences,”  “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” A Convenient Fiction,” “The Law and Situation of Military Propaganda,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part VI,” and “With God on Our Side . . ..”

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Illusions, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Implicit Situation of Love

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 16, 2010

Earlier this month, Anthony Greenwald, one of the pioneers in IAT research, posted on Scientific American.  Here is how his piece, titled “I Love Him, I Love Him Not” began.

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Over a decade ago, I devised a test for detecting attitudes and biases operating below the level of a person’s awareness.

Known as the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, it is presently the most widely used of the measures of implicit attitudes that have been developed by social psychologists over the past 25 years. It has been self-administered online by millions, many of whom have been surprised—sometimes unpleasantly—by evidence of their own unconscious attitudes and stereotypes regarding race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Now it is my turn to be surprised—pleasantly. The test has been used for a purpose that I long imagined as possible, but never dared attempt, knowing that it needed the attention of psychologists who focus on romantic relationships.  The results suggest that the IAT is effective in predicting which romantic relationships will last.

The report, just published in the journal Psychological Science, is provocatively titled “Assessing the Seeds of Relationship Decay.” In it, three psychologists at the University of Rochester — Soonhee Lee, Ronald Rogge, and Harry Reis—describe their research predicting relationship breakup. They recruited participants by many means, including referrals by psychology faculty and various Internet sources. The mostly female participants were married, engaged, or otherwise in exclusive, committed relationships.

The research started with the collection of several measures—not only the IAT, but also some established questionnaire measures of relationship quality—all of which might be useful predictors of breakup.  Of the 222 participants who started, 116 were successfully re-contacted to obtain reports on the status of their relationships at various times up to 12 months later.

Nineteen (16%) of the re-contacted participants reported that a breakup had occurred.  Remarkably, the IAT measure of a subject’s attitude toward her partner did a better job of predicting the breakup than did several questionnaire measures of relationship quality.

The authors concluded that the questionnaire measures might have been ineffective either because participants were unaware of negative attitudes toward their partners or perhaps because they knew about them but were unwilling to report them. If that’s correct, the IAT worked because it depends on neither awareness of the attitude nor willingness to report it.

What exactly is the IAT, and how does it tap into mental processes that can operate outside of awareness?

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You can read the entire post here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Cupid’s Situation,” The Situation of Love,” “Some Situational Signals of a Suicidal Disposition,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” “The Interior Situation of Suicide,” “Implicit Associations on Oprah,” “MSNBC Report on Implicit Associations,”Measuring Implicit Attitudes,” Mispredicting Our Reactions to Racism,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” and Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?,”

Posted in Emotions, Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Intuitions of Punishment?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2010

Owen Jones and Robert Kurzban recently posted their paper, “Intuitions of Punishment” (forthcmoing in the University of Chicago Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Recent work reveals, contrary to wide-spread assumptions, remarkably high levels of agreement about how to rank order, by blameworthiness, wrongs that involve physical harms, takings of property, or deception in exchanges. In The Origins of Shared Intuitions of Justice we proposed a new explanation for these unexpectedly high levels of agreement.

Elsewhere in this issue, Professors Braman, Kahan, and Hoffman offer a critique of our views, to which we reply here. Our reply clarifies a number of important issues, such as the interconnected roles that culture, variation, and evolutionary processes play in generating intuitions of punishment.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,” “Steven Pinker Speaks at Harvard Law School,” “John Darley on “Justice as Intuitions” – Video,” “The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” The Situation of Revenge,” “The Situation of Punishment,” and “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Abstracts, Morality, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Thomas Nadelhoffer on Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2010

From The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS):

Below is a fascinating and enlightening 51-minute interview of Thomas Nadelhoffer by Harvard Law Student Brian Wood.  The interview, titled “Developments in Neuroscience and their Implications for Criminal Law,” lasts just over 51 minutes.  It was conducted the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard (taught by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson).


Situationist Contributor Dr. Thomas Nadelhoffer was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned degrees in philosophy from The University of Georgia (BA), Georgia State University (MA), and Florida State University (PhD). Since 2006, he has been an assistant professor of philosopy and a member of the law and policy faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He is currently at Duke University as a Visiting Scholar in the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

His main areas of research include moral psychology, the philosophy of action, free will, punishment theory, and neurolaw. He is particularly interested in research at the cross roads of philosophy and the sciences of the mind. His articles have appeared in journals such as Analysis, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Mind & Language, Neuroethics, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. He is the coordinator of the blogs Flickers of Freedom and the Law and Neuroscience Blog. He is also a contributing author to blogs such as The Situationist, The Leiter Reports, and Experimental Philosophy.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Table of contents:

  • What have you been working on recently?  0:22
  • What are some areas of the legal system in which this science is relevant? 1:07
  • What are the problems with the traditional approaches to using science in the criminal system, and how are new scientific methods relevant to fixing them? 2:15
  • How could these newer scientific methods be employed? 4:09
  • What are the rationales society has traditionally cited as justifying criminal punishment? 6:55
  • Can you explain what Compatibalism is? 10:17
  • Aren’t there problems with notions of moral responsibility under Compatibalism? 12:26
  • How do neuroscience, Compatibalism, and determinism relate to our notions of law? 12:55
  • What do you see as the problems with the classic approaches to punishment? 15:25
  • Is there anything especially strange about Retributivism to you? 20:37
  • Can you detail what you believe to be the just reasons for punishment and how society can punish people more justly? 23:41
  • In your view, how would you punish psychopaths under the consequentialist rationale? 30:40
  • Can you give an example of the distinctions psychopaths cannot draw? 34:50
  • What’s the most interesting experiment you have conducted? 37:01
  • Do you think these participants just misunderstood what determinism is? 38:15
  • What qualities do you believe you and other researchers and philosophers need to be successful? 40:03
  • How has what you have learned through your research influenced the way you live you life? 41:35
  • How do you see the relationship of law and mind science developing in the future? 44:55

Posted in Experimental Philosophy, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2010

Selin Kesebir and Jonathan Haidt recnetly posted their terrific chapter, “Morality” (from Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th ed., 2010) (January 10, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This chapter assesses the state of the art in moral psychology from a social-psychological perspective. We begin with the story of the “great narrowing” — the historical process in which morality got reduced from virtue-based conceptions of the good person down to quandaries about what people should do. We argue for a return to a broader conception of the moral domain that better accommodates the diverse and often group-focused moralities found around the world. Our review of the empirical research is organized under three principles: 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship); 2) Moral thinking is for social doing; and 3) Morality binds and builds. We argue that kin selection and reciprocal altruism are just two of many evolutionary processes that shaped human morality. We show how a broader and more group-focused conception of morality fits with emerging ideas about multi-level selection, and with new discoveries about the rapid pace of genetic evolution and the importance of intergroup competition during the last 10,000 years. We close by applying this broader moral perspective to religion and politics.

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You can download the chapter for free here.   To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” The Situation of Legal Ethics,” “Blind to our Situational Blindness,” “Mood and Moral Judgment,” Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Morality | 2 Comments »

Renata Saleci on “The Paradox of Choice”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 9, 2010

A common theme of The Situationist and of the scholarship of Situationist Contributors is the “choice myth” in western culture.   Here is a video of Professor Renata Saleci, who employs sociology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, to offer a slightly different version of that familiar theme.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing,” and the  links in that post.   To review the hundreds of Situationist posts discussing the “Choice Myth” click here.,

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Ideology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce in their Clients’ Misconduct? — Part IV

Posted by Sung Hui Kim on August 6, 2010

This is Part IV of my series, exploring the reasons why lawyers acquiesce in their clients’ frauds and other misconduct.  For background, please access Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.  In this segment, I will focus on the relationship between lawyers’ “role ideology”—normative visions about their professional role—and the inclination to “go along to get along” when their high status clients (or, more accurately, high-paying client representatives) want to engage in financial shenanigans that impact our capital markets.

Don’t think this is an issue?  It is now 2010 and we are still recovering from the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.  No doubt, some lawyers looked the other way when their client representatives wanted to engage in deception.  The difficulty for researchers like me who want to learn more about this type of problem is that information about the lawyer-client relationship is ordinarily privileged (to be sure, there are a number of exceptions, e.g., the crime-fraud exception).   Luckily, we have the following story of the former associate general counsel of Lehman Brothers, based on some excellent reporting by James Sterngold of (Bloomberg) BusinessWeek, which you can directly access here: Lehman Bros. story.

But here’s a brief synopsis of the news story from BusinessWeek:

Oliver Budde faced a momentous life decision.  In February 2006, he had resigned from his position as associate general counsel from Lehman Brothers, a venerable (and publicly traded) investment bank in which he worked for nine years.  He had been disappointed with the lack of transparency in how his firm had disclosed certain long-term restricted stock units (RSUs) that were granted to senior executives, including former chief executive officer (CEO) Richard S. Fuld Jr.  After raising the issue with his superiors in the general counsel’s office, he was told that Lehman’s outside attorneys at a prestigious law firm had blessed the policy to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC filings.  Budde disagreed with this aggressive interpretation of the rules and voiced his objections.  Eventually, he quit the firm.

Later on that year, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would require the clear reporting of unvested RSUs and other stock-based awards in public filings.  Eager to see if the firm would now fully disclose the controverted RSUs, Budde pored over the proxy statement released in March 2008.  “I looked several times, and my jaw just dropped,” he said.  “What happened to the RSUs?”

After performing some calculations, Budde determined that CEO Fuld’s compensation was $409.5 million, rather than the mere $146 million disclosed in the proxy statement.  Apparently, Lehman had counted only two of fifteen RSU grants. After considering his options, Budde decided to blow the whistle and report Lehman’s noncompliance to the SEC and Lehman’s board of directors.  On April 14, 2008, he sent a detailed two-page e-mail to the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  After describing Fuld’s failure to disclose more than $250 million in RSU grants, Budde wrote:

The last thing the country needs right now is another investment bank in crisis.  I have wrestled with this over the past five weeks, since I first read the proxy.  This is not a shot at retribution, and I am in no way a disgruntled former employee (disappointed, even disgusted, yes).  I walked away freely from Lehman, and my ethical concerns in a number of areas were no secret to my superiors there. (Sterngold)

For his efforts, Budde received only a form “thank you” letter from the SEC.  His letters to the Lehman board were also ignored.  But Budde’s calculations were supported by a Yale Journal of Regulation article entitled, “The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman, 2000-2008” (Bebchuk et al.).  Of course, as it turned out, potential securities fraud was just one of the myriad problems afflicting Lehman at that time.  In September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. (Sterngold)

The Oliver Budde story raises a number of questions, the answers to which we still do not know.  One wonders: to what extent did the in-house and outside lawyers of Lehman Brothers (other than Budde) actively engage their client representatives (CEO Fuld among others) on whether it was ethically proper to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC public filings?  Setting aside whether it was explicitly required by the SEC regulations at the time, didn’t the concealment of material amounts of compensation cause the lawyers to at least pause and consider the ethical implications, especially in light of public furor over runaway executive compensation?

My guess is that if those lawyers paused, they didn’t pause for long.  It is likely that by the time this issue arose at Lehman Brothers, experienced lawyers had (more or less) fallen into the habit of analyzing ethical problems in a way that bleaches out the moral content.  Social psychologists call this gradual transformation “ethical fading.”

More provocatively and more generally, I wonder whether societal views about lawyers’ role can in fact contribute to lawyers’ acting unethically, which, of course, belies the notion that lawyers should be professionally independent from their clients.  I’d like to explore the issue of whether the normative visions of the lawyers’ role are the “dog wagging the tail” or the “tail wagging the dog.”

Role Ideology

Lawyers can be professionally molded to accommodate various conceptions of lawyering, with some conceptions creating greater pressures to align with clients than others.  The effect of all these alignment pressures (including the alignment pressures stemming from economic self-interest) is that lawyers’ ethical judgments will sway in the client’s favor.  (To be clear, I am focusing exclusively on lawyers who represent high-paying corporate clients.  I am fully aware that the opposite problem—lawyers exploiting or taking advantage of clients—occurs with many individual or less affluent clients.)

One key variable in determining the strength of an agent’s accountability to her principal is her understanding of the nature of her role as attorney and the ideological or normative commitments that such role entails – role ideology.  Ideologies about the law come with their own particular normative vision of lawyering and the lawyer’s role. Conversely, roles come “ready-made,” packaged by society, with their own sets of ideologies or “normative guidelines and values that give meaning and shape behavior.”  Even an ideology that purports to view the lawyer’s role in “morally neutral” or “agnostic” terms still makes a normative choice that we should view her role in such terms.

Role ideologies serve two functions.  First, they constitute nontrivial ex ante situational influences that define the universe of socially acceptable norms for that role, to whom or what the lawyer is accountable, and what degree of alignment to (or independence from) the de facto principal (i.e., the client representative) is socially appropriate.  When acting in accordance with a role, one simply acts as others expect one to act.  As put by philosopher Gerald Postema, “Although there is a personal or idiosyncratic element in any person’s conception, nevertheless, because the role of lawyer is largely socially defined, significant public or shared elements are also involved.”  Thus, socially defined role ideologies can lend ideological legitimation to a given style of lawyering (e.g., lawyering based on “client supremacy”), making it a more palatable option.  Over time, a lawyer may come to identify with a particular role ideology and come to believe that her unethical choices are in fact entirely consistent, and even possibly endorsed, by such role ideology.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, role ideologies can serve to legitimate any post hoc rationalizations of unethical behavior by framing the ethical problem in a manner that makes it more attractive to act unethically.  As Postema explains, “By taking shelter in the role, the individual places the responsibility for all of his acts at the door of the institutional author of the role.”  For the person who fully identifies with her role, the response “because I am a lawyer,” or more generally “because that’s my job,” suffices as a complete answer to the question “why do that?”  And cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when our internal attitudes do not correspond with our actions, then our internal attitudes are likely to shift to harmonize with our past actions.

In modern legal culture, various role ideologies are available.  At one extreme is the “officer of the court” view, the grand vision of a public-regarding role for lawyers that contemplates a broader professional obligation than to act only in the client’s (or the lawyer’s) self-interest.  Under this model, inside counsel, simply by virtue of being a lawyer, would be accountable not only to her client representative but also to the public. In this world, the alignment generated by accountability to the de facto principal might be partial (at best), since lawyers would not only have to consider management’s (perhaps fraudulent) goals but also the public welfare.  Of course, outside of the legal academy, most lawyers do not live in this world.

At the other extreme, the lawyer’s role is shaped by a “law is the enemy” or “libertarian-antinomian” philosophy (to use Robert Gordon’s nomenclature), which sees regulation contemptuously as nothing more than a tax on business, a hindrance to the wheels of private commerce.  This view is reflected in President Reagan’s inaugural address statements: “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  At Enron, such a view was endorsed by management: senior managers had conducted a skit in which one of the themes was deceiving the SEC.  Under this view, the lawyer’s role is to assist the client in devising creative ways to circumvent the law regardless of any harm to third parties or the underlying purposes of the law.  As the view that is most hostile to law, the alignment to the de facto principal (who favors unlawful actions) would be strong.

In the middle, two agency-centered conceptions characterize how many lawyers view their role. One traditional conception of lawyering that has found tremendous longstanding support by the organized bar and the rules of professional ethics is that the lawyer should be committed to the “aggressive and single-minded pursuit of the client’s objectives” within, but all the way up to, the limits of the law.  Her zealous advocacy should not be constrained by her own moral sentiments or commitments but only the “objective, identifible bounds of the law.”  Thus, under this model of partisan loyalty, the lawyer is instructed to interpret legal boundaries from the perspective of maximizing client interest.  In this client-centered world, the alignment to the de facto principal would also be strong.

Another middle-of-the-road ideology is the “agnostic” view that law is a “neutral constraint,” and – accordingly — the lawyer’s role is that of an amoral risk-assessor.  This view is characterized by the lack of moral imperative to comply with the law and the lawyer’s moral detachment from the law.  The lawyer’s role is diminished to that of a counselor who games the rules to work around the constraints and lower “tariffs” or “taxes” as much as possible.  While this view is not openly hostile to the law, it is not respectful of and thus corrodes the legitimating force of the law.  The lack of moral imperative to observe the law means that noncompliance is a feasible, even reasonable, business option.

Which role ideologies predominate in today’s corporate legal practice?  In my view, one can find empirical evidence of all these role ideologies with different lawyers and in different contexts.  That said, I think the two middle-of-the-road ideologies dominate modern corporate representation.  You will find the “zealous advocate” model being emulated in litigation practice.  The image and rhetoric of the “zealous advocate” also get invoked every time the legal profession fends off external regulation (e.g., regulatory attempts by the SEC).  (See Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars for more on the external regulation of the American bar.)  You will also find a variant of the “zealous advocate” model that substitutes “adversarialism” with “entrepeneurialism” among transactional lawyers who believe that they are “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  And, in my opinion, you will find many lawyers who view themselves as amoral risk-assessors.  Any of these normative visions of lawyering can be stretched to accommodate unethical behavior.

My guess is that those lawyers who accommodated Lehman Brothers’ desire to be less transparent in their public filings were (at least for the moment) adopting something close to the amoral risk-assessor model (which, frankly, is easy to do in highly technical fields like securities regulation or tax).  In short, they were “just providing advice,” telling clients what the pros and cons of a proposed course of action are and then leaving it to the clients to make the final call, even if that final decision is unethical and/or requires the lawyer’s full-blown assistance to implement.  Many lawyers feel they can engage in this ethical division of labor (“so long as I give accurate advice and not encourage you to break the law, you can do what you want”).

But are these role ideologies the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog?  This question invariably invokes a longstanding debate in social psychology about the extent to which “reasoned deliberation” influences behavior.  Some think reason plays a large role in explaining human behavior.  Others, like psychologist Jonathan Haidt at Virginia, think that reasons—or more accurately—culturally supplied explanations are more likely to be the rational tail wagging the emotional dog, in other words, a post-hoc construction intended to justify more automatic—and typically, self-interested—judgments.  But Haidt qualifies this position.  He says that since we are highly attuned to group norms (and subject to strong conformity pressures), we are much less likely to engage in conduct that clearly violates those norms.  Accordingly, explicit moral reasoning plays an ex ante role in societies by defining what is or is not acceptable behavior.

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For a more thorough treatment of this topic, please read my more comprehensive works, The Banality of Fraud: Re-Situating the Inside Counsel as Gatekeeper, Gatekeepers Inside Out, and my most recently published article – Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars—which relies on insights from cognitive science to explain why the rhetoric of lawyer exceptionalism, invoked when the legal profession fends off external regulation, is nonetheless so appealing.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Part I, Part II and Part III of this series and “How Situational Self-Schemas Influence Disposition,” “Categorically Biased – Abstract,” “The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,”  “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II,” Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” andThe Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2010

From Ted Talks: “[Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choice,” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Emotions, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Attention and the Gorilla in the Room

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 2, 2010

Dan Simons has a new version of some well known illusions that he and Christopher Chabris helped to make famous.  Enjoy:

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To check out Simons and Chabris’s new book, “The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us” click here.

For  a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Change Blindness,” “Neuroscience and Illusion,” Brain Magic,” Magic is in the Mind,”The Situation of Illusion,” ‘The Grand Illusion’ — Believing We See the Situation,”Neuroscience and Illusion,” The Heat is On,” and The Situation of Climate Change,”

Posted in Illusions, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Tolerating Hostility in the Workplace

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 1, 2010

From EurekaAlert:

She never gets invited to lunch with the rest of her co-workers. He always gets publicly criticized for his mistakes.

But according to research by Kansas State University psychologists, neither of these workers is likely to leave the job.

Meridith Selden, a K-State doctoral graduate in psychology, and her adviser, Ron Downey, K-State professor of psychology, studied workplace hostility. They found that among workers reporting hostility in the current position, almost half — 45 percent of them — had no definite plans to leave their current job. In addition, 59 percent indicated that they either liked or did not dislike their current job.

And this research took place well before the economic downturn.

“They might like the job, just not certain elements of it,” Downey said. “That really surprised us, that people weren’t ready to jump ship. We talk about the new workplace where people don’t stay at the same job forever, but getting a job is difficult and people don’t like to do it.”

Selden and Downey presented the research in April at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference in New Orleans.

The researchers had gathered the data through online surveys that participants found through a Web site, Web searcher or word of mouth.

“Companies don’t want to talk about workplace hostility,” Downey said. “This is a common methodology when they don’t want to let researchers in.”

He and Selden asked workers about non-physical hostile behaviors that they experienced in the workplace. That included hostile behaviors that were both exclusionary and interfering. For example, exclusionary hostility is being reprimanded in front of others, having your contributions ignored or being excluded from activities like coffee breaks. Interfering hostility prohibits you from doing your job, such as being gossiped about or having your equipment sabotaged.

“Exclusion issues are the ones that bother people considerably,” Downey said. “It’s like if everyone goes to lunch routinely but doesn’t invite you.”

The researchers found that workers feel equally harmed by this hostility whether it comes from co-workers or supervisors.

“You would think that hostility from the supervisor would cause more worry, but it didn’t here,” Downey said. “Many people still thought that their supervisor was helpful and were no less satisfied with the supervisor.”

Downey, whose other research has centered on workplace stress, said that the ramifications of hostile behaviors could be experienced later, even if workers remain positive for the time being.

“These kinds of behaviors just arouse stress for people at work,” he said. “If you’re talking about stress and get feelings of being upset while at the job, that leads to burnout. That’s when you leave the job.”

Downey said that many employers have specialized staff — whether in the company or on contract — who can mediate in these situations.

“By the time it gets to them, it has probably gotten way out of control,” he said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Women’s Situational Bind,” “Brenda Cossman on the Situation of Women in the Workplace,” and “The Situation of Situation in Employment Discrimination Law – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Conflict, Life | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

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